With temperatures in the 60s this week, it finally seems as though spring is upon us and the end of the school year is in sight. While day-to-day support needs in the district tend to drop at this time of year – many chronic issues have been solved, and most new technology initiatives and programs are well-established – this is a busy time of year from a planning perspective.
Every February marks the beginning of eRate season, when districts apply for federal funding to support internet connectivity. Historically, this has covered a portion of the costs for school internet and phone connections, as well as building-to-building network connections and other internal communications technologies, although the latter categories must pass through a difficult qualification process. While the paperwork to apply for and receive funding is onerous, the funding opportunities are substantial, as the district saves more than $15,000 per year through eRate funding.
In the past year, the eRate program has been modernized, which affects us in a number of ways. First, funding support for phone connections is being phased out, which makes sense as virtually no schools still obtain internet connectivity via phone lines. Further, funding for category two requests – which ADM has almost never qualified for based upon our relatively low free/reduced lunch rate – is now allocated on a capped, 5-year budget, which combined with additional funding for category two services should allow ADM a significantly better chance to receive funding. We’re putting this chance to the test this year, as we recently completed an RFP process and have applied for eRate funding for wireless service that will allow us to serve the building additions at DeSoto, Adel Elementary, the middle school, and the high school, as well as the central office building that will be coming online in the next couple of years. Based upon this year’s eRate funding formula, the district will be eligible for reimbursement of 60% of our costs for this project should it be approved for funding, resulting in a savings of between approximately $20,000 and $30,000. In addition to this project, we will also continue to receive reimbursements for category one services, such as our internet connection (provided by the Iowa Communications Network), our phone service (for the next few years), and our building-to-building network connection service through Mediacom Business.
While I always dread the red tape of eRate season, it is nonetheless exciting to see the amount of money that we can save each year that helps to make our technology offerings more affordable, while freeing up funding for educational programming for our students.